The newest installment in Founders Brewing Company’s extremely popular Backstage Series, which features limited-run 750mL bottles of mildly experimental beers, is Dissenter, an 8.7% ABV Imperial India Pale Lager, or IPL. It’s a style that, unlike the ubiquitous India Pale Ale, or IPA, not a lot of people have had, because it’s a style that not a lot of breweries produce. Simply put, lagers are more difficult to make than ales, requiring more attention throughout the brewing process, and they have a way of revealing even the most minor flaws.
One local brewery that’s chosen to focus on the lager, even despite the considerable challenges it poses, is Astoria’s Singlecut Beersmiths. Among their regular lineup of beers are their flagship 19-33 Queens Lagrrr, Jan Olympic White, John Michael Black Lagrrr, and an assortment of sours. With the sole exception of KelSo Pilsner, theirs are the only lagers being brewed within city limits. (Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Pilsner, and Sixpoint Crisp are all produced at outside facilities.)
“The greatest difference between ales and lagers,” says Singlecut head brewer Rich Buceta, “is in the flavor profile the yeast adds. Ale strains influence the final beer significantly, adding fruity flavors and aromas that are also called esters. Ale strains also create more mouthfeel or body. Lager strains are noted for their clean fermentation. If produced properly, lager beers should be very clean, with little influence form the yeast and very clean finish.”
It stands to reason, then, that in a craft beer world that’s long been dominated by an obsession with hops, the lager would eventually receive the same treatment as the ale before it. Thanks to that clean finish that characterizes it, according to Buceta, a lager “should let the hops shine in their truest light… Some will argue that the added mouthfeel or body ale strains create help balance the hop attack. Others want their hops as aggressive as possible.”
In the case of Dissenter, the hop attack is certainly on the aggressive side. There are hints of the standard citrusy notes–grapefruit and orange, mostly–but for me they were overshadowed by a huge blast of tropical fruit. Things like mango and pineapple are front and center, though I also kept getting this weird touch of lime, too, which was insanely pleasant. On the finish, the huge hop presence recedes somewhat suddenly, wiped clean by a really satisfying, light crackery malt presence. There’s a touch of lingering bitterness, but it’s not overwhelming. There’s no real sign of the 8.7% alcohol either, which is a feat in itself. At around $15 a bottle, it’s not cheap, but, well…. I don’t really care about that.
Singlecut made its own interpretation of the style this summer. “BOB” Sunburst Finish IPL was a session beer, coming in at just 3.8% ABV. “We really liked the result,” said Buceta. “We used experimental hops, and it was a great vehicle to really see what the characteristics of those hops were, with not influence or help from the yeast.” He also noted that they’re working on a version of their 19-33 lager that will be dry-hopped with hops from the west coast. “We intend to keep experimenting in this direction,” he said.
Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.